Monday, May 14, 2012

Quilts (and the artists who need them)

   I secretly call myself "The Constant Reader," which was the name of the late, great Dorothy Parker's New Yorker book review column. I read constantly...most of the time. However, this Constant Reader is currently trying to keep her head above the morass of activities and paperwork involved in my daughter's high school graduation Friday. She's stressed, I'm stressed, and when I'm stressed, I'm not a Constant Reader. My mind sails off to South American, and I crochet while watching endless episodes of Law & Order in all its incarnations. (There. Now you know my guilty secret.)
   My brain wasn't entirely on autopilot. The one children's book I read this month (one?!) was a lovely little morsel, Mooshka, written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis. This picture book spoke to several of my  loves--quilts, family stories and "blankies" in general.
    Mooshka is a quilt who belongs to Karla.  Like Karla, I had a grandmother who quilted. When I say "quilt," I don't mean the carefully designed and color-co-ordinated modern quilt. My grandmother made "scrap" quilts. using the leftover material she used to sew her family's clothes. "Meemaw" wasn't intere making art.  She was keeping her family warm during the Depression. What she didn't know was that she was also preserving family stories and instilling in me a passion for storytelling.
    I am the only person I know who has two baby quilts.  The first was made from a cache of pinwale corduroy samples. I dragged that quilt (which was made for a single bed) everywhere. Wrapped around my shoulders and trailing at my heels, "Meemaw's quilt" allowed me to be a queen ( usually the wicked kind) or Miss American (minus the ermine collar and tiara).  I was a sickly kid who found comfort in the quilt's soft folds, which grew softer and more velvet-like with every washing. In the instant before I threw up, I would heave the blanket out of the way, to spare it another washing. By the time I went to college, large portions of Meemaw's quilt were all but transparent.  So, as her very last quilt, every stitch hand sewn, she made me a new quilt, decorated with bunnies (my favorite animal), all embroidered free-hand. I had a new baby blanket to take to college. (I have no idea what my roommates thought of this.)
     I still have both of these quilts (hermetically preserved, like a wedding dress).  When Meemaw died, I inherited two of her Double Wedding Ring Depression-era quilts. Fragile as they are, I save them for days when I need some grandmotherly comfort (usually days when I wonder what in the world made me think I could ever be a writer).  Then I look at the varied patch prints, and remember Meemaw telling me the origin of every piece.  "Now this here was a shirt I made your daddy for his first day of kindergarden."  She would then go on to tell me how my father, deciding immediately that school was not his thing, escaped and was dragged back to school three times that first day.
     "This flowery piece here was a dress I made for Easter one year. I was wearing it the first time I met your mother." Meemaw was a great storyteller.  Recalling those stories as I touch each quilt patch, I remember why I wanted to be a writer in the first place.
    In Mooschka Karla's quilt actually talks to her, telling her the stories sewn into its seams.  Mooschka not only touched my heart with it's story of passing on family history, but it's beautiful folkloric illustrations.
Not surprisingly, Paschkis is also a textile designer. (Warning: This is not a story to share as an e-book. The pictures are half the story, and they need to be seen full-sized.)
    My daughter is graduating (I hope) on Friday. Next month she will be leaving for a month-long pre-college arts program. (She inherited Meemaw's artistic talent.) Packed in her bag will be her own Mooshka, one of Meemaw's quilts.  She knows it's only for those special days when she wonders why she thought she could be an artist.
    Don't forget, faithful friends, you have until 11 pm CST today to enter the drawing for a copy of Guest TeachingAuthor Karen Schreck's new YA novel While He Was Away.
    Also, for our TeachingAuthors Third Blogiversary Giveaway Contest prize of THREE 30$ gift certificates to  You must enter by 11 pm CST Monday, May 21, 2012. See April's post for more information.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Linda B said...

I'm not a quilter, but have a similar family background & just yesterday, my daughter, daughter-in-law & I went through all the quilts to see which ones they would like themselves, although some have been already made for my daughter by my mother. But there are very old ones from both my husband's side & my side of the family. It was a special time, to pass on these stories, these soft & loving 'things' from the past. I love the book, too & have not heard of it. Thank you for sharing your story!

Linda B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

that is a lovely story. i wish my grandparents had lived longer than they did so i could have really known them.